Pelopidas

Pelopidas was a 4th century Theban general and statesman.

Pelopidas came from a wealthy family, but was noted for his generosity and the frugal lifestyle he adopted from his lifelong friend, Epaminondas, another Theban general and statesman. Their relationship dated from at least the battle of Mantinea (385), when Epaminondas saved Pelopidas' life.

When the oligarchical party in Thebes invited in a Spartan force, which took the Cadmea, Pelopidas fled into exile, but Epaminondas was permitted to remain as being too poor and too wrapped up in philosophy to be a threat (383 or 382).

Pelopidas led a dozen Theban exiles from Athens to assassinate the leaders of the oligarchical party. They joined another 36 resistance fighters at a safe house in Thebes, and in the chaos produced in the assassinations they managed to dislodge the Spartan garrison (379).

Sparta invaded Boeotia but was defeated by a much smaller Theban army at the battle of Tegyra (375). In this battle, which was the first time the Spartans had been defeated by a smaller army, the Theban forces consisted of the Sacred Band, an elite squadron of 300 lover-soldiers formed into a single unit by Pelopidas. The Spartans sent an army of ten thousand foot and one thousand horse against the Thebans, but suffered a crushing defeat at the battle of Leuctra (371), in which Epaminondas was the overall Theban commander and Pelopidas led the Sacred Band.

Under Epaminondas and Pelopidas, the Thebans advanced into the Peloponnese, where they detached the other Peloponnesian cities from their alliances with Sparta, and finally liberated the Helots from the Spartans.

When they returned to Thebes, Epaminondas and Pelopidas were tried for continuing in command beyond their terms of office, but were acquitted.

Pelopidas was then (369) sent to Thessaly when the Thessalians asked for help against the tyrant Alexander of Pherae. After dealing with him, Pelopidas was asked to arbitrate between Alexander II of Macedon and Ptolemy of Alorus.

He took thirty hostages from Macedon back with him to Thebes, one of whom was Philip, Alexander II's brother, and later king himself and father of Alexander the Great.

There was more trouble in Macedonia in 368 after Ptolemy of Alorus murdered Alexander II, and Pelopidas was sent to sort things out. He raised a mercenary force in Macedonia, but the mercenaries deserted, and he was forced to make peace with Ptolemy. Pelopidas marched to Pharsalus to revenge himself on the faithless mercenaries, but was captured there by Alexander of Pherae, who kept him prisoner for a year until he was rescued by a Theban force under Epaminondas.

After his rescue, Pelopidas was sent as the Theban ambassador to the Persians to counteract the intrigues there of the Spartan and Athenian ambassadors. In 364, Alexander of Pherae was making trouble in Thessaly again. The Thessalians sought help from the Thebans and asked for Pelopidas as the leader of any force that was sent. Before the Theban force was due to leave for Thessaly there was an eclipse of the sun (13 June 364), which panicked the Thebans. Pelopidas left with only 300 volunteer cavalrymen, to be supplemented by Thessalians on his arrival. In the Battle of Cynoscephalae he attacked Alexander's much stronger army and succeeded in dislodging them from their position, but while attacking Alexander and his guards in person, Pelopidas was killed.

Ancient sources for Pelopidas' life: Plutarch's biography
Cornelius Nepos' biography (in Latin).

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